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A Day With Lymphedema

Living with lymphedema presents unique challenges. Here's one survivor's story.
Lymphedema is a painful, challenging condition brought about by a disruption in the lymphatic system’s normal ability to move lymphatic fluid through the body. It is often caused by injury, but can also appear after a surgical procedure.
The severity of lymphedema differs in each individual case. Some who suffer from lymphedema are helped with compression garments or pneumatic pumps and others require lymph node transfer surgery for relief. In each case, lymphedema is a lifelong condition which may or may not improve over time.
I never dreamed I’d develop lymphedema after breast cancer surgery. It was, in essence, an insult to my injury. It didn’t appear until about a month after I’d had both breasts removed. When I began to notice a swelling and tightness in my upper arms, I knew something wasn’t right. At first, I assumed it was due to the removal of several lymph nodes in each arm, and I thought it would get better as I healed. I was wrong. It was not going to get better and in fact, it was going to get much worse.
Lymphedema has greatly impacted my life. I’ve lived with it for the past three years. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve finally figured out how to manage it. Hopefully, this article will help someone face their own lymphedema challenges.
In the mornings, the swelling in my upper arms is usually minimal. This is due to the fact that I sleep with both arms elevated on pillows every night. I’m not normally a back sleeper, so this took some getting used to. My husband has finally accepted sleeping on the edge of the bed because of the pillows, but hey, you do what you have to do.
After waking, I get my shower. In the shower, I make sure to massage my arms. I use a loofah sponge or a nubby hand mitt coated with body wash. The body wash helps move the sponge or mitt up and down my arms. I do this repeatedly to help stimulate the flow of the lymphatic fluid. When I have time, I’ll often dry brush my arms before entering the shower. I do this with a soft, natural bristle brush. Dry brushing followed by shower massage helps get me off to a good start.
Following my shower, I don prescription compression sleeves. I’ll wear these throughout the day underneath my clothing. The compression sleeves are tight and take time to put on. Mine are 20-30 mmHg strength. Generally speaking, compression sleeves come in three medical compressions: 15-20 mmHg, 20-30 mmHg and 30-40 mmHg. Compression is expressed in mmHg (millimeters of Mercury) just the same as barometric pressure. There are many professional medical companies that provide prescription strength compression sleeves. Juzo, Lymphedivas and Jobst are just a few of the better-known companies.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
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